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Archive for the ‘Care’ Category

Lobbying, as a career, has gotten a bum rap.  But lobbying for non-profit humanitarian organizations is a different can of worms entirely from big business, tobacco, oil, pharma.  And citizen lobbying is another step above that – on Capitol Hill, in the never-ending struggle between votes and money, they know that professional lobbyists are in it for and because of the money, but constituents mean votes, and votes mean keeping your job.  So, Congressional staffers and Members give a sometimes surprising level of respect to constituent lobbyists.

Then again, lobbying on Capitol Hill, no matter your issue or inspiration, is a somewhat surreal experience.  You stand in line, waiting to get into the Rayburn House Office Building, between a group from the Real Estate Agents of America (“We’re here to tell them not to vote for a mortgage reform bill.  They’re going to take your money…again.”) and red-shirted National “I’m a Patient Advocate” Nurses United members.  In the cafeteria you see Congressman Ed Markey getting himself a cup of coffee.  Later, after walking past a hearing room in which Senators Lieberman and Kerry are announcing their climate change act, and almost bumping into Elizabeth Warren leaving a meeting of the TARP Bailout Oversight Committee, you might see Senator David “My Name Was on the DC Prostitute Ring’s Client List” Vitter walking down another hallway.  And, once in a while, you might step out of an elevator straight into a fast-moving group of camera men, staffers, and one tiny, blue-suited Supreme Court nominee.

But the political geek version of Spot-the-Celebrity clearly isn’t the point of being on the Hill.  Our Western Massachusetts group had meetings scheduled with three Congressmen who represent our districts, Reps. Olver, Neal and McGovern, and then we were to meet up with the other two MA groups to storm (or, squeeze into) the offices of Senators Brown and Kerry.  Our first two meetings, with staffers from Neal’s and Olver’s offices, were fine, but nothing much to write home about.  We met in the hallway, which is pretty common with a bigger group showing up at a House member’s office.  Those rooms are not spacious.  Ritchie Neal isn’t known for being a big foreign aid guy, so we tried to push the poverty solutions that CARE designs as cost effective and economy-boosting.  We got a polite but somewhat distant response from his staff.  At Olver’s office our presentations on Maternal Mortality, Food Security and Child Marriage were received more positively, and we were assured that the related bills that Representative Olver hadn’t signed on to yet would be reviewed in the coming days and weeks.

By far our best meeting of the day, though, was with Rep. Jim McGovern, who represents Worcester and the rest of the 3rd District (Central and a weird bit of Southeastern MA).  It was our only meeting with an actual member of Congress, and it was a winner.  McGovern is a long time supporter of humanitarian aid and international human rights issues, so going in we knew we were preaching to the converted.  Care’s CEO, Helene Gayle, joined us for the meeting as a way to emphasize our appreciation for Rep. McGovern’s help and leadership on the issues.  But, even though she’s the CEO of the organization, she mostly left it to us, the constituents, to do the talking.  And talk we did.  McGovern seemed excited about the meeting, and kept chatting about food security and child marriage through not one, not two, but three visits from one of his senior staffers, desperately trying to get him to a meeting of the House Rules Committee.  Shockingly, humanitarian aid seemed to be more compelling at that moment than arcane Congressional rules debates.  (But, honestly, one of the reasons why I love McGovern is because he’s interested in both foreign aid and House rules.  Geek.)

The meetings with our Senators were as different as one would imagine Senator “Foreign Relations Committee” Kerry and Senator “Male Model” Brown are.  Brown’s staffer was polite but not particularly engaged, while Kerry’s clearly knew more about these issues than most of us, but was excited by our visit, impressed by our level of knowledge, and insisted that we taught him things he didn’t know before.  (Side note – the Foreign Relations Committee staff offices are full of really fun reading material.  Stacks of books on genocide, for example.  Yet they all seemed like genuinely happy people…the effect of having a job you love, I’m guessing.)

At the end of the day we were tired but energized, which is the best way to feel after a long day.  A few weeks later we heard that Rep. Olver has co-sponsored the Global MOMS Act, the Maternal Health bill we were promoting, and we’re hoping that others will sign on soon.  Rep. McGovern promised to hold hearings on child marriage in the next few months.  Senator Kerry’s staff is looking for ways to work many of Care’s issues into appropriations and foreign relations bills.  We’re still waiting for Rep. Neal and Sen. Brown to step up on humanitarian aid…but not waiting with bated breath.

So, what to do now?  Long range planning – next year’s conference will be March 7-8. You know you want to go.  DC in March! (It’s like spring then!)  Learning interesting things, and hearing inspiring stories!  And, perhaps best of all (if you’re a nerd), lobbying for women’s issues on International Women’s Day!  Awesome.

In the meantime, there’s something everyone can do, and according to Jim McGovern, it’s one of the most important ways to help promote the cause of poor people around the world.  And it’s easy, and it’s free.

Write.  Call.  Talk.

Let your elected officials know that you care about helping people, and tell your friends to do the same.  Politicians support issues that their constituents support – that’s the way representative democracy (ideally) works.  So if your representatives already support these causes, tell them you’re behind them.  And if they don’t, tell them you do.

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Care

Earlier this month I attended the Care National Conference in Washington DC.  Care is an international humanitarian organization that works to alleviate poverty around the world, primarily (but not solely) by aiding and empowering women.  It’s an awesome organization, and the conference, which involves one day of lectures and panel discussions and one day of lobbying on Capitol Hill, is a fun and inspiring way to feel like you are actually making a difference in the lives of people you will likely never get to meet.  And the word seems to be getting out.  When I was there two years ago there were over 400 participants.  This year there were twice that many.  We were an army of bleeding heart foreign aid promoters descending on Congress.  We even may have convinced a few of the guys from the Real Estate Agents’ group, on the Hill to talk up their opposition to some mortgage tax reform bill, and often next to us in the security lines to get into the congressional office buildings, that investing in the world’s poor is a good idea.

Day One of the conference was devoted to education and prepping for our Hill visits.  We were focusing on three issues for the lobby day – global hunger and food security, maternal mortality, and child marriage.  These are three of Care’s biggest issues, both in terms of their advocacy and for their on-the-ground projects.  Many of the day’s sessions touched on one or more of the key issues, but they also ranged over topics as diverse as microcredit “village savings and loan” groups, the 2010 midterm elections, and education and empowerment programs at textile factories in the developing world (that one, as you might imagine, got a little heated in the Q&A section).  In between the inspiring and informative sessions we also met with our lobbying groups in order to plan our operations for Day Two.  Because Massachusetts, and especially Western Mass, rocks, we had enough participants to field an entire lobby team of eight from just the three western congressional districts.  For an added bonus, Katie, the Care staffer assigned to our group, was both the daughter of one of our team and the lead Care lobbyist working on maternal health.  Needless to say, Team 38 was pretty kickass.

One of the highlights of the conference was the keynote address on Day One.  To a room full of mostly women, many of whom I would bet were in  the 30-60 demographic, who had enough of an interest in international development and women’s rights to take two days off of work to go to Washington DC to chat up their Representatives, Hillary Clinton is something of a rockstar.  And so, you can imagine the reception she received when she came out on stage to give the keynote.  Never have I seen a roomful of people so enraptured by 20 minutes of talk on the widespread beneficial effects of nutrition programs in the developing world.  And rightfully so.  If you want to judge the stability of a country, she said, “don’t count the number of advanced weapons.  Count the number of malnourished children.”  We want “results measured not by dollars, but by long-lasting change.”  Our Secretary of State knows this stuff, is passionate about it, and is actually making a difference.  I found myself thinking, who would have imagined that the woman who wrote It Takes a Village all those years ago, who gave that amazing “women’s rights are human rights” speech in Beijing in 1995, would, now, be the one actually creating and executing US policies that follow through on the ideas she has been advocating for decades?  Sometimes it’s awesome how history works out.

More to come in Part Two: Lobby Day, which includes nerdy celebrity sightings, throwing a congressman off his schedule, and a visit to possibly the most depressing office for a liberal on Capitol Hill.

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